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26th Annual Festival of Films from Iran: THE SALE (2014) review

February 17, 2016

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written by: Hossein Shahabi
produced by: Hossein Shahabi
directed by: Hossein Shahabi
rated: unrated
runtime: 86 min.
release date: February 20-21, 2015 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL) – North America premiere

 

None of the Iranian films playing at the festival that I’ve seen so far have been upbeat and “The Sale” continues that tone. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging a connective melodrama that ties these films together. The films have delivered an impressive handful of performances that convey grief, fear, confusion and frustration, that resonates and is relatable. While it would be quite a surprise to view a laugh-out-loud Iranian comedy, seeing one powerful drama after another has provided a deeper knowledge and understanding for the culture and the struggles of the people of modern-day Iran – especially the women. That’s what we find in writer/producer/director Hossein Shahabi’s social drama “The Sale”, which showcases three strong female performances affected by the complexities of polygamy.

The story follows fortysomething Forough (played by the indomitable Farida Khademi), who’s forced to sell practically all her possessions in order to keep her home to pay off her husband’s debt. Unbeknownst to Forough, her husband went off and married a younger woman, Saghar (Mahsa Abiz), an act that is considered legal in Iran. Her husband currently sits in jail though because he couldn’t afford to pay his second wife’s Mehrieh (similar to a dowry). Now, this second wife has gone to the courts and has asked that her husband sell his house, where Forough still lives, in order to receive her Mehrieh. Forough winds up basically having an estate sale, selling off her furniture, clothes and even her own paintings which she was to exhibit at a local gallery in order to release her husband. With the support of her stubborn close friend, Nasrin (Nasim Adabi), Forough does her best to keep a stiff upper lip while working with her lawyer (Maryam Sarmadi) as her situation becomes more complicated when a revelation is dropped.

 

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While the customs, laws and rights of marriage in Iran come across as a little confusing in “The Sale”, it’s not that hard to follow the emotional plight of the main character. Western viewers will become incensed at the whole Mehrieh thing – to be honest, it is both ridiculous and insulting when you really think about it. A mistress-now-wife, seeking money from the first wife? That would never go over in the States, let alone become acceptable as law. But that’s why films like “The Sale” exist, so a story with such a confounded concept can be told and possible understood if not respected by foreigners.

At first, it seems like Khademi’s Forough is dealing with all of this in a proactive manner, barely showing any kind of emotional pull or drain. But the titular event going on in her home – with the bustling of prospective buyers coming and going, asking price questions and wondering why she’s selling stuff – starts to wear her down. Khademi gradually shows Forough’s mental and emotional strain, while Adabi’s Nasrim lashes out in defense of her exhausted best friend. Meanwhile, as Saghar, Abiz has the challenging task of portraying her character as more than just an entitled antagonist. She’s that and much more, as we start to see the fearful and lonely emotions beneath her cold exterior. Shahabi provides these actresses with a strong screenplay that offers them a chance to explore their characters emotions and actions in real and authentic ways.

In the end, we’re not necessarily rooting for one wife or the other, since their both in tough predicaments that they’re going to have to live with somehow. Compassion and empathy come to play eventually between the two wives, when they subconsciously realize that they are more victims of a legal system that has no concern over the moral well-being of women. Again, that can be disconcerting for Western viewers, but “The Sale” certainly does offer an education and understanding into Iranian culture, which is probably the strongest reason to view the film.

This film, which made an appearance at the 21st Vesoul International Asiatic Film Festival in 2015, is essential viewing for anyone who wants to learn more about the intricacies of Iranian matrimonial law.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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